April 29

Press Release: Saudi Arabia and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Announce Landmark Push to Eradicate Polio and Lift Millions out of Poverty

Saudi Arabia and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today pledged to work together to help protect 370 million children annually from polio and lift millions out of poverty across 33 Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) member countries. To coordinate the implementation of the new partnership, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will open a regional office in Riyadh.

A total of more than US $620 million was announced at the World Economic Forum (WEF) Special Meeting in Riyadh by His Excellency Dr. Abdullah A. Al Rabeeah, Advisor to the Royal Court and Supervisor General of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid & Relief Centre (KSrelief) and His Excellency Fahad bin Abdurrahman Al-Jalajel, Minister of Health of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in the presence of Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) and Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Since Africa became wild polio-free in 2020, the only two wild polio endemic countries remaining are Pakistan and Afghanistan. The direct engagement of Middle Eastern countries, including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, has helped drive polio cases in those countries down from more than 300 cases in 2014 to 12 in 2023. Until polio cases reach zero and the world is certified polio-free, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) will continue to need resources. This new commitment from Saudi Arabia is the largest multiyear pledge by a sovereign donor towards the current GPEI strategy, ensuring that essential health services are provided to hundreds of millions of children each year.

“Polio is a horrific disease that deserves to be in the history books once and for all,” said Bill Gates. “I am proud to see the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, together with partners across the Middle East, step up to help deliver more polio vaccines, measles immunizations, and other vital health services to millions of children every year. This global health investment will help strengthen and build more resilient health systems and communities, at a time of multiple crises around the world. It’s also encouraging to see new support for longstanding partnerships like the Lives and Livelihoods Fund, which has been instrumental in lifting millions of people out of poverty.”

To accelerate progress toward polio eradication, improved global health, and poverty alleviation, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced the following commitments today:

  • Saudi Arabia has pledged US $500 million over the next five years to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, a public-private partnership led by national governments with six partners, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
    • This is the largest contribution made by the Kingdom to polio eradication efforts.
    • This contribution will help deliver vital health services along with polio vaccines to underserved populations through the WHO and UNICEF, which are GPEI partners.
  • Since polio eradication efforts began, thanks to the leadership of Rotary International, the GPEI has reduced polio cases by 99% globally, eradicated two of three wild poliovirus strains, and helped save more than 20 million people from polio paralysis. Saudi Arabia and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have pledged US $3 million and US $15 million respectively over three years to support the Polio Legacy Challenge.
    • As Afghanistan, one of the last polio-endemic countries, approaches critical milestones for polio eradication, the Polio Legacy Challenge will be spearheaded by the ministries of health in countries across the region, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar, under the auspices of the WHO EMRO Regional Subcommittee for Polio Eradication and Outbreaks.
    • As a results-based financing initiative, the Polio Legacy Challenge will be administered by the IsDB to help strengthen Afghanistan’s health systems and incentivise a continued focus on polio eradication.
  • Saudi Arabia will contribute US $100 million to support the Lives and Livelihoods Fund (LLF), the largest multilateral development initiative in the Middle East, which aims to lift the poorest out of poverty across 33 IsDB member countries through investments in strengthening primary health care, eliminating preventable infectious diseases, supporting smallholder farming and rural agriculture, and improving basic infrastructure. This commitment made by Saudi Arabia follows a renewed pledge of US $50 million from the UAE to the LLF made earlier this week.
  • To support the implementation of the programmes announced today, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will establish a regional office in Riyadh, in Mohammed Bin Salman Nonprofit City, and partner with the MiSK Foundation to support youth engagement and effectiveness of the third sector.

H.E. Dr. Abdullah A. Al Rabeeah, Supervisor General of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid & Relief Centre (KSrelief) commented: “In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the last remaining polio-endemic countries, we have seen significant progress, yet work remains to be done as the world pushes towards making eradication possible. The pledge from Saudi Arabia today will enhance the innovation and collaboration needed to eradicate this disease. Together with our partners, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, the Islamic Development Bank and key countries across the region, our support will not only aim to end polio but to also strengthen health systems in these countries.”

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is also working with Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health to ensure a safe and healthy Hajj pilgrimage by improving disease surveillance and testing, bringing safe and clean sanitation solutions to millions of Hajj pilgrims, and providing technical assistance to support Saudi Arabia’s vaccine manufacturing capabilities, with the aim of helping low- and middle-income countries access lower-cost vaccines. With this new pledge, Saudi Arabia will serve as an early adopter country for the WHO Global Health Emergency Corps, contributing to global pandemic preparedness and response efforts.

“This investment towards global health isn’t just a good to have; it’s a strategic imperative for a thriving, more resilient future together, said H.E. Fahad bin Abdurrahman Al-Jalajel, minister of Health of Saudi Arabia, “the world faces many health challenges, and it is part of our responsibility and leadership to contribute with our partners in bridging the gaps, and through concerted efforts, we will be able to alleviate the suffering of many people.”

Finally, as part of their collaboration, KSrelief and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are each allocating US $4 million as a humanitarian relief grant in response to acute humanitarian needs in Gaza, which have disproportionately impacted women and children. This funding will be distributed through UNICEF to deliver health interventions and provide access to basic water and sanitation services.

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Source: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (link opens in a new window)

Health Care, Investing
partnerships, poverty alleviation, public health, vaccines